Enemy: Brooklyn Nets
3SOB Forecast*: 51-31
“What’s up, Brooklyn?”
If one thing is for sure, it is that the Brooklyn Nets have pushed all their chips towards the middle of the table on this season’s hand. As “punishment” for their extravagant payroll, which stands in excess of $100 million this season, they figure to face a luxury tax penalty reported by ESPN’s Mark Stein, to be in the ballpark of a historic and eye-popping $87 million. For comparison’s sake, the Grizzlies’ total payroll figures to be some $15 million less than the Nets’ luxury tax contribution, alone.
While winning is certainly the priority in Brooklyn, one can legitimately question whether a large portion of the motivation is simply a daring attempt to capitalize on the lack of roster mobility possessed by the cross-town New York Knicks. If the team playing over in the adjacent borough flops again this year after a disappointing demise in the 2013 playoffs, the ball is in the Nets court with as good a chance as any to steal away, or even just borrow, a valuable portion of the market share.
The “battle for New York” began as somewhat of a manifestation by the media, but has suddenly gotten very real. What the Nets did by going out and acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by way of trading with the Boston Celtics transcends the concept of simply adding two of the most proven basketball players of the past decade.
Rivalry may be a bit of a strong word to describe the relationship that the Knicks and Boston Celtics of today share, but with two heated first-round playoff series in the books much akin to what we have witnessed between the Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers, this is the closest thing that they’ve got at the Garden. Now the Nets have taken two of the most volatile weapons from that Boston team, and placed them on the Knicks’ home soil.
Last season, the media tried to pump up the matchups between the two New York teams, but with little bad blood and the games occurring early in the year, it was to little avail. This season sparks will fly regardless. The perfectly villainous Pierce has already stated that “it’s time for the Nets to start running NYC.”
The new future hall-of-fame additions to the roster are not the only source of headline generation out of Brooklyn, however. The Nets made their first waves of the off-season when they named freshly-minted retiree, Jason Kidd — Springfield-bound in his own right –, the third head coach to reign besides the Barclays Center’s home bench. Kidd has a close relationship with franchise player, Deron Williams, has been long known as one of the great treasures of the league when it comes to basketball knowledge, and is equipped with a powerful roster to aid in his attempt to back up the reputation this year with success on the sidelines. It also doesn’t hurt the marketing cause that he played on the other side of the New York City fence known as the East River last season.
The follow-up move, signing Swiss army knife forward Andrei Kirilenko, raised some eyebrows with him accepting an offer far below market value in order to join the team. He turned down a $10.2 million option in Minnesota, willingly taking a near 70% paycut for the coming season, by ultimately opting for a two year deal with the Nets totaling $6.5 million big ones, using their mini mid-level exception.
Kirilenko backed his decision stating that it is, “time to take a shot at a title,” (ESPN New York). Regarding the rumblings of any suspected involvement of foul play, he kids, “I guess it comes from the history of Russia and the KGB. I don’t know what that is, what it makes people think. It makes it a little funny, but if it looks funny in those situations, what can I do?”
Who are they cooking with?
No more isolation in Brooklyn. Okay, well maybe “no more” is a bit strong, but spoken like a true point guard, Coach Kidd promises to implement some more ball-movement friendly schemes as one of his major changes during his first season in office. “Don’t be afraid to let go of the ball because a lot of times, when you do let go of the ball, the ball will find you,” says the first-season sideline general.
Seeing as Williams logged double-digit per game assist rates in Utah, and has seen his passing numbers tumble since changing zip codes, this should in theory be a very good thing. When you’ve got a playmaker like Williams at the helm, it would be nice to see the affectionately dubbed “Iso Joe” Johnson get a few less than 28% of his touches (his 2012-13 total) in isolation situations. For contrast, renowned ball-stopper Rudy Gay only took 21.6% of his shots from isolation last season. Despite all the one-on-ones and the sputtering pace, the Nets ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
The arrivals of Garnett, Pierce, and Terry all pose the threat of upgrading the offensive attack independent of the philosophy shift, simply by offering more viable options and versatility to the mix. Garnett, even at his advanced age is still leaps and bounds more potent than Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries have ever dreamed of being with the ball in his hands, as he is able to score in a number of ways, and can step out 15-18 feet to open the paint for Brook Lopez. Pierce is a far superior shooting threat than Gerald Wallace dreams of being, and Terry, at least by reputation, should demand more defensive attention than CJ Watson did.
Defensively, the infusion of Garnett’s seldom-paralleled attitude should only help fortify what was a middle of the pack defense last year. Wallace’s defensive tenacity on the wing was nice, but the addition of Kirilenko should mitigate any of those losses, while adding more value on the other end.
The starting lineup is as well-rounded as any in the league, but the bench figures to be equally as rounded in its own right. Smoothed out by specialists, the bench features Alan Anderson who can make it rain from three, and Reggie Evans, who would aggressively box out his own mother for a rebound if she stood in his way. Lastly, I would hate to leave out the fact that the Nets retained reserve big, Andray Blatche, whose 2013-14 PER figure leaped to over 4 points higher than that of his previous best season. There will be a very deep team in Brooklyn this season, and as long as health or chemistry matters do not cause the team to implode from within, the Nets should find themselves deep in the playoff hunt.
How do the good guys stack up?
With Brooklyn’s acquisition of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, The Nets can now boast that they have an All-Star starting lineup — not to mention former Sixth Man of the Year, Jason Terry. Particularly in adding KG to Brook Lopez, rookie head coach Jason Kidd is working with a 4-5 combo just as potent as the Grizzlies have in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is like a middle-class man’s Gasol. KG won’t be bullied by the shorter Z-Bo. Just that right there is going to make the Brooklyn games worth the price of admission. Tayshaun and The Truth going at each other will be fun even before Tony Allen switches onto Pierce. And just to show you how tough and competitive this game is going to be, notice that I’m this far into this and I’m just now getting around to the matchup between Deron Williams and Mike Conley. I say these teams split the series, each winning at home.
It goes without saying that if pre-season hype wins championships, the Nets are strong contenders in 2013-2014. They made a splash by bringing in the rotting corpse of Boston’s former championship contender core in Pierce and KG. They also return top-tier starters in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. While they have decent depth at the wing, there is a big question about who plays behind Williams at the point guard position. The other wild-card is the hiring of recently retired Jason Kidd. Nobody knows what to expect from Kidd as a coach, and there are real questions about his ability to partition himself from the players with whom he was a friend and peer just a season ago.
The Grizzlies will face the Nets twice next season, unless the two meet in the NBA Finals. While individual games are often unpredictable, the Grizzlies have handled the Nets well the last few years, and have had success against Pierce and KG when they were in Boston. Conley has done a good job containing and frustrating Williams and our perimeter defense should be able to neutralize the Nets depth at the wing spots. Even at his age, KG can be a force but if you had to choose between KG/Lopez or ZBo/Gasol, the Grizzlies come out ahead in the paint. The Nets may have more “star power” but the Grizzlies are a better team and I expect they will earn no worse than a split this season.
When and Where do they square off?
November 30th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
March 5th: 6:30PM at the Barclays Center
For more Nets content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Brooklyn’s Finest.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.